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Brands see big potential in ‘nighttime nutrition’

Late-night snacks may be due for a healthy makeover.

A small but growing number of products designed for pre-bedtime snacking are entering the market. They are described as healthier than traditional late-night fare and carry the added benefit of promoting sleep and relaxation.

Nightfood, Inc., Tarrytown, N.Y., launched a “sleep friendly” ice cream line last year. Available in a variety of flavors such as Full Moon Vanilla, Midnight Chocolate and Cherry Eclipse, the products contain more fiber and protein and fewer calories than traditional ice cream. Nightfood ice cream contains magnesium and glycine, which promotes relaxation, while ingredients that may disrupt sleep, such as excess sugar, fat and caffeine, are reduced or eliminated.

“Just being delicious isn’t enough these days,” said Sean Folkson, chief executive officer at Nightfood. “Neither is just being different. You need to be different, but in a way that actually matters to the consumer.”

Nightfood ice cream wasn’t the company’s first functional late-night snack. It launched a sleep-promoting nutrition bar in 2015. The brand struggled to generate consumer excitement around the product, but Mr. Folkson said its modest results led to an important insight: When it comes to late-night snacking, consumers aren’t searching for better-for-you products like nutrition bars. They’re reaching for more indulgent items like potato chips, cookies, ice cream or candy.

“I now understand that providing night snackers with nighttime nutrition bars is like giving an 8-year-old a pet rock,” Mr. Folkson said. “Interesting, but not exciting or life-changing. On the other hand, providing night snackers with nighttime ice cream is like giving that 8-year-old a puppy.”

Other companies, including Nestle-backed Goodnight and Milwaukee-based Good Source Foods, also are getting into the late-night, sleep-friendly sweets game.

Goodnight launched last year through Foundry Foods, an internal incubator from Nestle USA, Arlington, Va. Available in milk and dark chocolate varieties, the brand’s before-bed bites contain L-Theanine, magnesium and casein protein, which interact with metabolic processes related to sleep regulation.

“(Goodnight) is confirming our beliefs that people are looking for a natural remedy for something they normally take in supplement form such as melatonin,” said Doug Munk, director of new business ventures for Nestle USA. “We are also finding people are looking to replace some of their junk foods before they go to sleep with something that is a little better.”

The company currently is gearing up to launch updated “Goodnight 2.0” products following last year’s successful test run.

Good Source Foods uses dried cherries, which contain melatonin, and lavender, which is known for its calming effects, to make its Evening Calm variety of chocolate clusters. Designed to promote sleep and relaxation, the chocolates also contain turmeric, honey, oats and walnuts.

Nightfood, Goodnight and Good Source Foods are some of the handful of brands tapping into nighttime nutrition, which Mintel called “one of the most compelling and category changing trends” in its annual Food and Drink Trends report. More than 80% of consumers snack regularly before bed, Mintel said.

There may be a biological component driving consumers to the kitchen at night. Appetite tends to peak in the evening, when cravings for sweet and salty foods are strongest. Willpower weakens throughout the day, so the later it gets, the easier it is to reach for the cookie jar or bag of candy.

At the same time, interest in better-for-you snacks is at an all-time high. As many as 80% of consumers seek healthier snacks that pack an added functional benefit.

“Scientific research over the last several years has helped us more clearly understand why people snack the way they do at night,” said Michael Grandner, director of the Sleep and Health Research Program at the University of Arizona and adviser to Nightfood. “It seems we’re biologically hard-wired to default to sweets, salts and fats as it gets later in the day.”

This may explain why more than 50% of consumers report dissatisfaction with their own night snacking behavior, despite spending an estimated $1 billion per week on snacks consumed between dinner and bed.

“More than half of that money … is being spent in a dissatisfied way, by people that want something better,” Mr. Folkson said. “That speaks to not only the size of the opportunity, but the immediacy and the motivation on behalf of the consumer, which is really powerful stuff.”

Source: Food Business News

Why It’s Hot

Good example of how healthy eating and mindfulness trends can translate into product development, and also how the nuances of those trends can make a difference in how consumer needs are met.

Seamless launches Seamless+

Seamless launches a paid offering, aligning to DTC trends of paid membership combined with rewards offerings.

For $9.99/month you get unlimited free delivery and 10% cash back.They also integrate donation match and “Elite Care,” an exclusive customer service offering.

https://www.seamless.com/plus

 

Why It’s Hot:

In looking at what drives loyalty vs. what rewards existing loyalty, it’s interesting to see how paid models are making their way into reward programs.

Activate This ‘Bracelet of Silence,’ and Alexa Can’t Eavesdrop

Last year, Ben Zhao decided to buy an Alexa-enabled Echo speaker for his Chicago home. Mr. Zhao just wanted a digital assistant to play music, but his wife, Heather Zheng, was not enthused. “She freaked out,” he said.

Ms. Zheng characterized her reaction differently. First she objected to having the device in their house, she said. Then, when Mr. Zhao put the Echo in a work space they shared, she made her position perfectly clear:“I said, ‘I don’t want that in the office. Please unplug it. I know the microphone is constantly on.’”

Mr. Zhao and Ms. Zheng are computer science professors at the University of Chicago, and they decided to channel their disagreement into something productive. With the help of an assistant professor, Pedro Lopes, they designed a piece of digital armor: a “bracelet of silence” that will jam the Echo or any other microphones in the vicinity from listening in on the wearer’s conversations.

The bracelet is like an anti-smartwatch, both in its cyberpunk aesthetic and in its purpose of defeating technology. A large, somewhat ungainly white cuff with spiky transducers, the bracelet has 24 speakers that emit ultrasonic signals when the wearer turns it on. The sound is imperceptible to most ears, with the possible exception of young people and dogs, but nearby microphones will detect the high-frequency sound instead of other noises.

“It’s so easy to record these days,” Mr. Lopes said. “This is a useful defense. When you have something private to say, you can activate it in real time. When they play back the recording, the sound is going to be gone.”

During a phone interview, Mr. Lopes turned on the bracelet, resulting in static-like white noise for the listener on the other end.

As American homes are steadily outfitted with recording equipment, the surveillance state has taken on an air of domesticity. Google and Amazon have sold millions of Nest and Ring security cameras, while an estimated one in five American adults now owns a smart speaker. Knocking on someone’s door or chatting in someone’s kitchen now involves the distinct possibility of being recorded.

It all presents new questions of etiquette about whether and how to warn guests that their faces and words could end up on a tech company’s servers, or even in the hands of strangers.

By design, smart speakers have microphones that are always on, listening for so-called wake words like “Alexa,” “Hey, Siri,” or “O.K., Google.” Only after hearing that cue are they supposed to start recording. But contractors hired by device makers to review recordings for quality reasons report hearing clips that were most likely captured unintentionally, including drug deals and sex.

Two Northeastern University researchers, David Choffnes and Daniel Dubois, recently played 120 hours of television for an audience of smart speakers to see what activates the devices. They found that the machines woke up dozens of times and started recording after hearing phrases similar to their wake words.

“People fear that these devices are constantly listening and recording you. They’re not,” Mr. Choffnes said. “But they do wake up and record you at times when they shouldn’t.”

Rick Osterloh, Google’s head of hardware, recently said homeowners should disclose the presence of smart speakers to their guests. “I would, and do, when someone enters into my home, and it’s probably something that the products themselves should try to indicate,” he told the BBC last year.

The “bracelet of silence” is not the first device invented by researchers to stuff up digital assistants’ ears. In 2018, two designers created Project Alias, an appendage that can be placed over a smart speaker to deafen it. But Ms. Zheng argues that a jammer should be portable to protect people as they move through different environments, given that you don’t always know where a microphone is lurking.

At this point, the bracelet is just a prototype. The researchers say that they could manufacture it for as little as $20, and that a handful of investors have asked them about commercializing it.

Source: NY Times

Why It’s Hot

Voice tech spawns voice protection tech. We can assume innovation to protect us from innovation is a trend worth following.

Tool to Help Journalists Spot Doctored Images Is Unveiled by Jigsaw

A doctored, phony image of President Barack Obama shaking hands with President Hassan Rouhani of Iran. A real photograph of a Muslim girl at a desk doing her homework with Donald J. Trump looming in the background on television.

It is not always easy to tell the difference between real and fake photographs. But the pressure to get it right has never been more urgent as the amount of false political content online continues to rise.

On Tuesday, Jigsaw, a company that develops cutting-edge tech and is owned by Google’s parent, unveiled a free tool that researchers said could help journalists spot doctored photographs — even ones created with the help of artificial intelligence.

Jigsaw, known as Google Ideas when it was founded, said it was testing the tool, called Assembler, with more than a dozen news and fact-checking organizations around the world. They include Animal Politico in Mexico, Rappler in the Philippines and Agence France-Presse. It does not plan to offer the tool to the public.

We observed an evolution in how disinformation was being used to manipulate elections, wage war and disrupt civil society,” Jared Cohen, Jigsaw’s chief executive, wrote in a blog post about Assembler. “But as the tactics of disinformation were evolving, so too were the technologies used to detect and ultimately stop disinformation.”

The tool is meant to verify the authenticity of images — or show where they may have been altered. Reporters can feed images into Assembler, which has seven “detectors,” each one built to spot a specific type of photo-manipulation technique.

When an image has been manipulated — for instance, two images were merged together or something was deleted from the background — traces of the changes may be left behind. With a computer program that has been trained to learn from being shown example after example of what it should detect, Assembler can analyze an image and highlight where it thinks those traces are.

Source: NY Times

Why it’s Hot

We rely on the integrity of news coverage, but more and more we have to doubt everything we see. This is a good example of a use of technology that can impact society in a positive way, driving clarity among those responsible for informing us with the truth every day.

Emojis Meet Hieroglyphs: If King Tut Could Text

An exhibition at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, “Emoglyphs: Picture-Writing From Hieroglyphs to the Emoji,” highlights the seemingly obvious, but also complicated, relationship between the iconic communication system from antiquity and the lingua franca of the cyber age.

A visual and linguistic exercise in time travel, “Emoglyphs” juxtaposes the once indecipherable pictogram writing of ancient Egypt, which first developed about 5,000 years ago, with the more accessible and universal usage of pictograms that originated in Japan in the late 1990s.

It was always hard to explain how to read hieroglyphics,” said Shirly Ben Dor Evian, an Egyptologist and the show’s curator. “In recent years it’s become easier to explain because people are writing with pictures. So I started looking into emoji.”

The first thing she noticed, she said, was that some emojis look like hieroglyphs.

A chart at the entrance of the exhibition pairs a column of hieroglyphs with a column of emojis. The similarities are uncanny: There’s no need for translation.

The Egyptian depiction of a slender, generic dog closely resembles the emoji of a prancing canine in profile. A duck (often used as a generic for a winged creature in ancient Egyptian) reappears thousands of years later as an almost identical, left-facing emoji duck. And the “emoji man dancing” strikes a similar pose to a hieroglyph of a dancing man, one arm raised and with little but a purple disco suit and a loin cloth from 3,000 years ago to distinguish between them.

The exhibition, in a small gallery in the museum’s Bronfman Archaeology Wing, has more than 60 ancient Egyptian artifacts on display; most are from the museum’s collection and many of them on view for the first time. Visitors can quiz themselves on their understanding of emojis and their newly acquired knowledge of hieroglyphs on interactive screens. Data on the differing interpretation of some emojis will be gathered as part of a survey.

The two systems may have common features, but there are also deep and complex differences.

Hieroglyphics was a complete written language, and while even an illiterate person could recognize and understand some basic symbols, the scribes worked according to strict rules and had to be highly skilled. Ancient Egyptian inscriptions eventually morphed into the dry efficiency of the first alphabet of around 20 characters, which could be more easily taught and executed, leading to an explosion in communications.

“What’s happened now,” said Ms. Ben Dor Evian, who has a hieroglyph app on her cellphone, “is that it is easier to click on an emoji than to write a whole word.”

Emojis often serve as emotional shorthand — think smiley blowing a heart kiss to soften a message or send love, or a winking face to signal sarcasm — filling an expressive void that text messages may fail to convey.

In ancient Egyptian writing and art, the image of a scarab, or dung beetle, expressed a whole concept of the afterlife and rebirth and was used in inscriptions as the verb “to become.”

With the beginnings of research into the field of emoji, Egyptologists, cognitive linguists and communication experts have started debating the similarities between the two communication systems and what sets them apart.

Some have hailed emoji as a new language. One enthusiast produced a crowdsourced and crowd-funded emoji version of Herman Melville’s classic “Moby-Dick” titled “Emoji Dick.” In 2015, Oxford Dictionaries chose the “face with tears of joy” emoji as its word of the year, saying it best represented “the ethos, mood and preoccupations” of the period.

But Chaim Noy, a professor in the school of communications at Bar Ilan University near Tel Aviv who teaches a course on emoji “because it attracts students,” considers it simplistic and populist to speak of emoji as a language, viewing it as a kind of body-language supplement to text.

An expert in museum studies as well, Professor Noy said there was nevertheless “drama” in the exhibition, which runs through Oct. 12, juxtaposing the high culture of the museum and ancient Egypt against the bottom-up, lowbrow culture of emoji.

“It’s a bit provocative, it brushes off the tired, dusty image,” he said.

 Source: NY Times

Why It’s Hot:

We focus a ton on emojis in our social monitor and linguistic analyses. It’s interesting to see emojis juxtaposed with language in a way that both shows their staying power as well as highlights their limitations.

 

Spotify roles out pet playlists

Spotify can now generate playlists for your pets, with a new tool that claims to customize mixtapes to a critters’ species and personality traits.

The music-streaming service announced the feature Wednesday, noting that 71 percent of pet owners already play music for their pets.

The “Pet Playlists” tool allows users to choose between dog, cat, iguana, hamster and bird, then tell the platform how energetic or friendly their animal is to help Spotify “pick the playlist vibe,” the company says.

For instance, a playlist curated for a relaxed, curious and shy cat spits out 30 tracks including The Cure’s “All Cats Are Grey” and “Never Run Away” by lo-fi singer-songwriter Kurt Vile.

Spotify has also launched a podcast called “My Dog’s Favorite Podcast” that’s meant to soothe pups when their owners leave the house.

Sources: CNN Business, NY Post

Why It’s Hot:

Another example of appeal to people’s expanded passions, especially pet owners. Amazon has embraced it with pet profiles, and innovation in the category continues to grow.

Delta Air Lines bets on AI to help its operations run smoothly in bad weather

In its first-ever keynote at CES, Delta announced a new AI-driven system that will help it make smarter decisions when the weather turns tough and its finely tuned operations get out of whack. In a first for the passenger airline industry, the company built a full-scale digital simulation of its operations that its new system can then use to suggest the best way to handle a given situation with the fewest possible disruptions for passengers.

It’s no secret that the logistics of running an airline are incredibly complex, even on the best of days. On days with bad weather, that means airline staff must figure out how to swap airplanes between routes to keep schedules on track, ensure that flight crews are available and within their FAA duty time regulations and that passengers can make their connections.

“Our customers expect us to get them to their destinations safely and on time, in good weather and bad,” said Erik Snell, Delta’s senior vice president of its Operations & Customer Center. “That’s why we’re adding a machine learning platform to our array of behind-the-scenes tools so that the more than 80,000 people of Delta can even more quickly and effectively solve problems, even in the most challenging situations.”

The new platform will go online in the spring of this year, the company says, and, like most of today’s AI systems, will get smarter over time as it is fed more real-world data. Thanks to the included simulation of Delta’s operations, it’ll also include a post-mortem tool to help staff look at which decisions could have resulted in better outcomes.

Source: TechCrunch

Why It’s Hot

Delivering on best in class CX in the airline industry is a beast, and Delta has consistently tried to win here (as previous covered by Forrester CX index and the like). Why lacking in the super-cool-tech factor, widespread use of AI In the airline industry makes a ton of sense.

Slack just taunted Microsoft with ‘OK boomer’ for running an ad campaign that looks almost exactly like one of Slack’s

Slack is leaning into its status as the young, hip startup by calling out its older, more established competition: Microsoft.

Slack tweeted a video on Thursday comparing a Slack ad and a Microsoft ad, showing the similarities between them and implying the Microsoft copied Slack’s concept. The video was captioned “ok boomer,” a phrase that has turned into a meme for millennials and Gen Z to voice their gripes with the baby boomer generation.

Watch the video here

Valued at $12 billion, Slack is as essential as an internet connection in some circles, and has even become a verb. Despite its ubiquity, however, the workplace chat app might be falling behind competitor Microsoft Teams.

On Tuesday, Microsoft announced that Teams hit 20 million daily users, while Slack most recently announced just 12 million users. Slack’s stock took a dive after the announcement.

At the same time, NY Times announced that at least five trademark applications are pending for the retort, according to a database for the federal patent office, including one by Fox Media, which hopes to use it for a possible television series.

Source: Business Insider

First came the “OK Boomer” memes on social media. Then came the T-shirts, phone cases and other merchandise emblazoned with the viral retort. Now, get ready for an all-out war at the United States Patent and Trademark Office and a possible television series using the phrase.

On Nov. 11, Fox Media filed a trademark application for a TV show called “OK Boomer,” one among a handful of applicants hoping to secure rights to the phrase hurled by Generation Z and millennials to older people who don’t understand their positions on various issues and anyone issuing condescending remarks. (This month, Chloe Swarbrick, a 25-year-old New Zealand lawmaker, even used it in Parliament to respond to a heckler during a debate on a zero carbon bill.)

Separate applications filed on Oct. 31 (by a man named Kevin Yen) and Nov. 14 (by the jewelry company Rust Belt Creations) described intentions to use the phrase on clothing items. Another application, filed on Nov. 12 (also by Rust Belt Creations), mentioned plans to sell decals and stickers. And an application filed on Nov. 13 (by William Grundfest, a TV producer known for “Mad About You”) referred to plans to use “OK Boomer” for live stage performances and lectures.

NYTimes

Why it’s Hot

Odd trend taking more odd turns.

HEFTY’S HOLIDAY PARTY CUPS ARE DESIGNED TO KILL ANNOYING FAMILY CONVERSATIONS

There are a variety of strategies for avoiding uncomfortable family conversations during the holidays—silently nodding, changing the topic, chugging the champagne, heading to the loo or skipping dinners altogether. But now, Hefty has swooped in with a solution that requires you to do practically nothing at all.

The brand has created special “Party Cups” inscribed with messages designed to prevent those awkward discussions from happening at all.

Printed on the festive vessels are lines like “Don’t ask my who I’m voting for,” “Yes, I’m single and happy,” “Diet starts Monday,” “Ask about my furbaby” and “I’m funemployed.” So if Aunt Mary asks you about your love life or Uncle Joe irks you with a fake news headline, all you need to do is just take a sip of your drink.

The Hefty Holiday Party Cups are on sale for a limited time at $2.99 for 20 at HeftyPartyCupsSaveTheHolidays.com.

Source: Ad Age

Why It’s Hot

In a rather basic category with little differentiation (red solo cups are what brand? didn’t know…) this is a nice way to drive brand choice and a good example of people getting a kick out of product “personalization.”

Google to Buy Fitbit for $2.1 Billion

Google is acquiring Fitbit, the maker of fitness-tracking devices, for $2.1 billion as the world’s largest tech companies expand further into health in pursuit of growth.

The deal represents an aggressive attempt by Google to bolster its lineup of hardware products, which already includes smartphones, tablets, laptops and smart speakers. Fitbit makes a lineup of fitness-tracking devices, but has faced stiff competition from Apple after the introduction of the Apple Watch.

The deal is likely to face scrutiny from government regulators. Google has been the subject of antitrust investigations in Europe and the United States.

In recent years, the biggest tech companies have been expanding into health products and services. With the introduction of Apple Watch in 2014, the company has been adding new services for people to track their health. Amazon has also expanded its offerings in this field, including acquiring the online pharmacy company PillPack.

Source: NY Times

Why It’s Hot:

Seems like a strong data play!

Google Claims a Quantum Breakthrough That Could Change Computing

Google said on Wednesday that it had achieved a long-sought breakthrough called “quantum supremacy,” which could allow new kinds of computers to do calculations at speeds that are inconceivable with today’s technology.

The Silicon Valley giant’s research lab in Santa Barbara, Calif., reached a milestone that scientists had been working toward since the 1980s: Its quantum computer performed a task that isn’t possible with traditional computers, according to a paper published in the science journal Nature.

A quantum machine could one day drive big advances in areas like artificial intelligence and make even the most powerful supercomputers look like toys. The Google device did in 3 minutes 20 seconds a mathematical calculation that supercomputers could not complete in under 10,000 years, the company said in its paper.

Scientists likened Google’s announcement to the Wright brothers’ first plane flight in 1903 — proof that something is really possible even though it may be years before it can fulfill its potential.

Still, some researchers cautioned against getting too excited about Google’s achievement since so much more work needs to be done before quantum computers can migrate out of the research lab. Right now, a single quantum machine costs millions of dollars to build.

Many of the tech industry’s biggest names, including Microsoft, Intel and IBM as well as Google, are jockeying for a position in quantum computing. And venture capitalists have invested more than $450 million into start-ups exploring the technology, according to a recent study.

China is spending $400 million on a national quantum lab and has filed almost twice as many quantum patents as the United States in recent years. The Trump administration followed suit this year with its own National Quantum Initiative, promising to spend $1.2 billion on quantum research, including computers.

A quantum machine, the result of more than a century’s worth of research into a type of physics called quantum mechanics, operates in a completely different manner from regular computers. It relies on the mind-bending ways some objects act at the subatomic level or when exposed to extreme cold, like the metal chilled to nearly 460 degrees below zero inside Google’s machine.

“We have built a new kind of computer based on some of the unusual capabilities of quantum mechanics,” said John Martinis, who oversaw the team that managed the hardware for Google’s quantum supremacy experiment. Noting the computational power, he added, “We are now at the stage of trying to make use of that power.”

On Monday, IBM fired a pre-emptive shot with a blog post disputing Google’s claim that its quantum calculation could not be performed by a traditional computer. The calculation, IBM argued, could theoretically be run on a current computer in less than two and a half days — not 10,000 years.

“This is not about final and absolute dominance over classical computers,” said Dario Gil, who heads the IBM research lab in Yorktown Heights, N.Y., where the company is building its own quantum computers.

Other researchers dismissed the milestone because the calculation was notably esoteric. It generated random numbers using a quantum experiment that can’t necessarily be applied to other things.

As its paper was published, Google responded to IBM’s claims that its quantum calculation could be performed on a classical computer. “We’ve already peeled away from classical computers, onto a totally different trajectory,” a Google spokesman said in a statement. “We welcome proposals to advance simulation techniques, though it’s crucial to test them on an actual supercomputer, as we have.”

Source: NY Times

Why It’s Hot

It’s hard to even fathom what possibilities this opens, but it seems application is still a while away.

BEHIND THE BEER INDUSTRY’S NEW CAMPAIGN TO BEAT LIQUOR

The beer industry is moving forward on a new campaign meant to combat rising competition from wine and spirits, despite ongoing hostility between the nation’s two largest brewers.

MillerCoors remains on the sidelines of the so-called “Beer Growth Initiative” as a way to protest what it says are unfair attack ads by Anheuser-Busch InBev, which has called out MillerCoors for using corn syrup during its brewing process. In a new statement to Ad Age, MillerCoors said: “We were happy to have participated in the early stages of the category health initiative, because we believe deeply in its value. We look forward to re-engaging that work whenever the country’s largest brewer stops denigrating ingredients used by almost every brewer, including themselves.”

The initiative, which counts participation from three trade groups representing distributors, big brewers and craft brewers, last month began testing a new campaign called “Beers to That” by rolling it out in Austin, Texas. The 90-day Austin effort includes digital advertising, experiential events, point-of-sale materials and out-of-home ads. The goal is to push beer for multiple occasions, well beyond beer’s traditional sports-viewing stronghold.

Ads plug beer for celebrating everything from “lazy Sundays” to Mercury being “out of retrograde”—a reference only astrology geeks could love.

Website: https://beerstothat.com/

“Maybe 20 or 15 years ago we were content to own the pro sports and the Nascar” but “that is not where all the consumers are today,” Craig Purser, president and CEO of the National Beer Wholesalers Association, said in the latest edition of Ad Age’s Marketer’s Brief podcast, where he shared details about the new campaign.

The NBWA, which represents about 3,000 beer distributors nationwide, is leading the campaign along with the Beer Institute, which represents big brewers—including MillerCoors and AB InBev—as well as the Brewers Association, a craft brewers trade group.

The effort comes as the liquor industry continues to make gains. According to a Gallup poll released in August, 29 percent of U.S. drinkers named liquor as their preferred drink, up from 21 percent 10 years ago. In that time, beer’s share has fallen from 40 percent to 38 percent. In 1993, 47 percent of drinkers named beer as their top choice, according to Gallup.

Source: Ad Age

Why It’s Hot

Always good to have advertising + beer news! But this is also interesting as a category-wide effort in a heavily brand-driven world. Will be interesting to see though how the Austin pilot works and how this rolls out more widely.

 

Creators of modern rechargeable batteries share Nobel prize

If you had to slip a couple AAs into your smartphone every morning to check your email, browse Instagram and text your friends, chances are the mobile revolution would not have been quite so revolutionary. Fortunately the rechargeable lithium-ion battery was invented — a decades-long task for which three men have just been awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry.

The prize this year honors M. Stanley Whittingham, John Goodenough and Akira Yoshino, all of whom contributed to the development of what is today the most common form of portable power. Without them (and of course those they worked with, and those who came before) we would be tied to even more wasteful and/or stationary sources of energy.

Lead-acid batteries had been in use for nearly a century by the time people really got to thinking about taking things to the next level with lithium, a lightweight metal with desirable electrical properties. But lithium is also highly reactive with air and water, making finding suitable substances to pair it with difficult.

Experiments in the ’50s and ’60s laid the groundwork for more targeted investigations, in particular Whittingham’s. He and partner Fred Gamble showed in 1976 that lithium ions, after donating electrons to produce a charge, fit perfectly into a lattice of titanium disulfide — where they sit patiently (in their “van der Waals gaps”) until an electron is provided during recharging. Unfortunately this design also used a lithium anode that could be highly reactive (think fire) if bent or crushed.

John Goodenough and his team soon developed a better cathode material (where the lithium ions rested) with a much higher potential — more power could be drawn, opening new possibilities for applications. This, combined with the fact that the metallic lithium anodes could be highly reactive (think fire) if bent or crushed, led to increased research on making batteries safe as well as useful.

The three scholars whose work most powerfully advanced this technology from theory to commercial reality were awarded equal shares of this year’s Nobel Prize in Chemistry, each taking home a third of the nearly million dollars and, more importantly, the distinction of being recognized in historic fashion.

Source: TechCrunch

Why It’s Hot

Makes you realize the innovation we take for granted, as something as seemingly simple as this required decades of work.

Tinder Created a Show to Give Its Users Something to Hook Up About

For all of their success, swipe-y dating apps like Tinder or Bumble face a problem once their users have matched: It’s hard to find things to discuss with total strangers. What exactly are you supposed to say in response to “”?

In an effort to solve this, Tinder has created a scripted choose-your-own adventure series that it hopes will supply its young users with raw material for conversations on its platform. The goal is to counteract that chronic dating-app issue: conversations that die almost as soon as they begin.

The project, called SwipeNight, consists of four episodes. One will air each week on the Tinder app. In each episode, users who participate will be ushered through an apocalyptic scenario and prompted to make a series of choices, from the seemingly unimportant (how to best D.J. a party) to the critical (whose life to save). The show features a cast of young diverse actors and, like a video game, gives the user a first-person perspective on the action.

Participants will then show up in each other’s lists of potential matches. Some of the choices they made during the show will be visible on their profiles. That is when, the company hopes, a number of those people will swipe right on each other and talk about what they experienced.

Last year Tinder set up a team to survey hundreds of young people. This research helped the company see members of Generation Z as fundamentally different from older generations: Gen Z’s immense comfort on social platforms and immense discomfort with defining relationships, or even using words like “dating” and “flirting.”

SwipeNight also looks to take advantage of their facility with the raw material of pop culture.

“They speak in gifs, they react in emojis, they talk in stories,” said Elie Seidman, the chief executive of Tinder, of 18-to-25-year-olds, who already make up more than 50 percent of the app’s user base.

Tinder allows users little space to provide information about themselves on their profiles. That can lead to a particular shortage of subjects to discuss. On Tinder, Mr. Seidman said, approaching strangers is much easier than it is offline. “But you get to the next thing, and there’s no context,” he said. “What’s the context? ‘Oh, you’re also on Tinder.’ ‘Like, yeah, obviously.’”

Tinder has traditionally been viewed as a predate experience. SwipeNight looks to collapse some elements of a first date — the mutual experience of some diversion — into its platform.

Episodes of SwipeNight will be available on Tinder on Sundays in October from 6 p.m. to midnight in a user’s time zone. For now, the show will be available only to Americans.

Source: NY Times

Why It’s Hot

Unexpected time and place for what essentially is content marketing to drive stickiness with a platform. I do wonder if it’s too “cheesy” for Gen Z daters though?

Sleep Therapy for the Masses May Be Coming to You Soon

CVS Health wants to help millions of American workers improve their sleep. So for the first time, the big pharmacy benefits manager is offering a purely digital therapy as a possible employee benefit.

The company is encouraging employers to cover the costs for their workers to use Sleepio, an insomnia app featuring a cartoon therapist that delivers behavior modification lessons.

CVS Health’s push could help mainstream the nascent business of digital therapeutics, which markets apps to help treat conditions like schizophrenia and multiple sclerosis. The company recently introduced, along with Sleepio, a way for employers to cover downloads as easily as they do prescription drugs. The company said it had already evaluated about a dozen apps.

Some industry executives and researchers say the digital services should make therapy more accessible and affordable than in-person sessions with mental health professionals.

Big Health, the start-up behind Sleepio, is one of more than a dozen companies that are digitizing well-established health treatments like cognitive behavioral therapy, or devising new therapies — like video-game-based treatments for children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder — that can be delivered online. Since last year, a few pharmaceutical companies, including Novartis,announced partnerships with start-ups to develop digital treatments for mental health and other conditions.

So far, the use of treatment apps has been limited. But with the backing of CVS Health, which administers prescription drug plans for nearly one-third of Americans, those therapies could quickly reach tens of millions of people. A few employers have started offering Sleepio, and more are expected to sign on this fall, CVS Health said. Like in-person therapy, the insomnia app does not require a prescription.

“We are at this pivotal moment,” said Lee Ritterband, a psychiatry professor at the University of Virginia School of Medicine who has developed online health interventions for more than a decade. “For years, these have been bubbling under the surface.”

Other experts argue that online therapies may not be ready for mass adoption. In a recent study in Nature, researchers warned that most digital treatments lacked evidence of health benefits. Although first-of-their-kind medical apps that claim to treat diseases must obtain clearance from the Food and Drug Administration, health apps that make vaguer wellness claims — like better sleep — generally do not need to demonstrate effectiveness to federal regulators.

Sleepio unfolds more like a low-key, single-player video game, where the user is on a quest for better sleep, than a clinical health program. The app features an animated sleep expert with a Scottish accent, called “the Prof.” An affable but firm therapist, the bot offers people who have insomnia symptoms a series of six weekly online sessions.

“At times, you may feel like quitting or even give up, but don’t despair. This is totally normal,” the animated therapist says in the first session. “What I can tell you for sure is, if we work closely together on this, we have an excellent chance of defeating your poor sleep.”

Big Health has raised $15 million from investors including Kaiser Permanente, the California-based health system. In 2015, the start-up began selling Sleepio directly to employers, sending them aggregated data on their employees’ progress. Companies pay a fee for each employee who uses the insomnia app, but Big Health declined to disclose its pricing.

Delta Air Lines and Boston Medical Center, two of the companies that work directly with Big Health, said employees who used Sleepio reported improved sleep.

 

CVS Health’s rollout of Sleepio is part of its larger effort to popularize online health treatments as employee benefits. Dr. Brennan said the company planned to move forward with the apps it deemed to have solid evidence of efficacy.

“We’re doing it because we think patients are going to benefit from it,” Dr. Brennan said. “That’s an important step for physicians. That’s an important step for patients.”

Source: New York Times

Why It’s Hot

We’ve seen “digital therapeutics” as an emerging trend — from health monitoring comes apps like Calm and text messaging with psychologists. But the mainstreaming of it and association with employer health plans (what data will be shared?) is interesting.

White Claw Shortage! (sorry, I had to)

America is running out of White Claw hard seltzer, and the shortage might not end until next year.

White Claw sales have skyrocketed over the past year, according to the company and industry analysts. The company can’t keep up with demand. So White Claw has purposefully limited supply to ensure it can continually serve all of its markets.
That distribution practice, called allocation, has been in place for a year, according to Mark Anthony Brands, which owns White Claw and Mike’s Hard Lemonade. Stores across the United States receive a constant flow of White Claw, but the drink’s distributors aren’t increasing the volume of shipments to stores that run out.
The company said it will continue allocate White Claw until supply returns to normal. But the spiked seltzer maker also said it’s “working around the clock” to increase supply and capacity heading into 2020.
“While not completely eliminating intermittent stock outs, we believe this strategy has helped us be in the best position possible on shelf,” Phil Rosse, White Claw’s president, said in a statement. “But with the tremendous response we have had from consumers, understandably, our supply chain has tightened.”
Spiked seltzer is now a billion dollar industry. Sales of hard seltzer surpassed $1 billion for the past year ending in August — a surge of nearly 200% compared to the previous year, according to Nielsen. Hard seltzer makes up 2.5% of the alcohol market, up from 0.9% a year ago.
Despite the growing number of rivals, White Claw remains the industry leader. Sales are up 250% year over year, according to Nielsen.
Source: CNN Business
Why It’s Hot: Because Hot Sauce loves this story.

McDonald’s plans to bring AI voice technology to its drive-thrus

Fast food is about to get even faster. McDonald’s announced that it is buying the voice tech startup Apprente so it can automate its drive-thru menu. The Mountain View-based company specializes in building voice-based agents that can take orders in multiple languages and accents. The fast food giant has been testing Apprente’s technology in several locations and expects it will allow for “faster, simpler and more accurate order taking” at its drive-thrus.

Apprente will form a pivotal part of McD Tech Labs, a new restaurant technology group based in Silicon Valley. The Apprente team will become the group’s founding members and co-founder Itamar Arel will serve as vice-president. “McDonald’s commitment to innovation has long inspired our team. It was quite clear from our various engagements that McDonald’s is leading the industry with technology” said Itamar Arel, Ph.D., co-founder of Apprente and Vice President of McD Tech Labs. “Apprente was borne out of an opportunity to use technology to solve challenging real world problems and we’re thrilled to now apply this to creating personalized experiences for customers and crew.” The company is planning on hiring more engineers, data scientists and other advanced technology experts to build its presence in Silicon Valley.

The fast food giant say there’s potential to expand Apprente’s technology into other areas, like mobile and kiosk ordering. But while the new technology may make life easier for customers, may come at the cost of human jobs. McDonald’s self-service kiosks will be implemented across all US restaurant locations by 2020, which could reduce the need to hire as many human cashiers.

The food chain’s acquisition of Apprente is its third tech deal this year. In April it acquired Dynamic Yield, a personalized data startup, in order to customize its drive-thru menus by the weather, time of day, current restaurant traffic and trending menu items. It also bought a minority stake in Plexure, a New Zealand-based mobile app technology company.

Source: Engadget

Why It’s Hot

Paves the way for probable improvements to CX that have a long time coming for fast food. I also suspect McD is not yet in the smartest place with their customer data and these acquisitions may help keep it relevant and on top of its game.

Amble, a crowd-funded start-up, organizes monthlong retreats that pair creative professionals with budget-strapped national park conservancies.

Two-thirds of all full-time employees in the United States are currently experiencing job burnout, according to a recent Gallup study. While we aren’t great at taking advantage of earned time off — a whopping 768 million vacation days go to waste every year — a survey by the American Psychological Association last year found that even a two-week getaway is merely a stopgap as work-related stress returns before our tans have faded.

Yet a growing number of people are finding new ways to cultivate stability and avoid or overcome burnout. Three years ago, after nearly a decade at design agencies, Ilyssa Kyu, 30, quit her job to catch her breath and spend more time with her newborn daughter.

“I took a leap of faith and did my own sabbatical,” said Mrs. Kyu, who went on to not only bond with her daughter but also explore the trails and tribulations of national parks over five months. The results? A book, “Campfire Stories: Tales from America’s National Parks,” and the creation of a crowd-funded start-up, Amble. The company’s monthlong retreats pair creative professionals with budget-strapped park conservancies that support National Park Service projects, such as wildlife protection and trail rehabilitation.

For $1,400, which includes lodging, program benefits and some meals, these “Amble Creatives” devote 18 hours per week working on small yet transformative projects, be it redesigning a website or increasing audience engagement. The nonprofits return the favor with guided national park hikes, exclusive conservancy engagements and an America the Beautiful annual park pass.

Following sold-out retreats in Yosemite and the Sierra Foothills, Amble will host its third program from Oct. 7 to Nov. 10 in Glacier National Park, in partnership with the Glacier National Park Conservancy and Parks Project. Ten to 12 people are invited to join each program, and family-friendly accommodations have ranged from a 340-acre ranch in Mariposa, Calif., to a contemporary house on the Flathead River in Hungry Horse, Mont.

The participants range widely from web developers to marketing experts and craft makers; the latest Glacier National Park retreat accepted an artifact photographer from a science museum in San Francisco, as well as a Second City comedian-turned-social media strategist.

Source: NYTimes

Why It’s Hot

I’ve been re-targeted for this and other services like it all over the place. Is it a sign? Probably. A trend to watch? yep

How We are AI – by NY Times

Would be hard to summarize this in-depth article/expose from NYT, but…

A.I. Is Learning From Humans. Many Humans.

Artificial intelligence is being taught by thousands of office workers around the world. It is not exactly futuristic work.

  • A.I., most people in the tech industry would tell you, is the future of their industry, and it is improving fast thanks to something called machine learning. But tech executives rarely discuss the labor-intensive process that goes into its creation. A.I. is learning from humans. Lots and lots of humans.
  • Before an A.I. system can learn, someone has to label the data supplied to it. Humans, for example, must pinpoint the polyps. The work is vital to the creation of artificial intelligence like self-driving carssurveillance systems and automated health care.

  • Tech companies keep quiet about this work. And they face growing concerns from privacy activists over the large amounts of personal data they are storing and sharing with outside businesses.

  • Tens of thousands more workers, independent contractors usually working in their homes, also annotate data through crowdsourcing services like Amazon Mechanical Turk, which lets anyone distribute digital tasks to independent workers in the United States and other countries. The workers earn a few pennies for each label.

    Based in India, iMerit labels data for many of the biggest names in the technology and automobile industries. It declined to name these clients publicly, citing confidentiality agreements. But it recently revealed that its more than 2,000 workers in nine offices around the world are contributing to an online data-labeling service from Amazon called SageMaker Ground Truth. Previously, it listed Microsoft as a client.

    One day, who knows when, artificial intelligence could hollow out the job market. But for now, it is generating relatively low-paying jobs. The market for data labeling passed $500 million in 2018 and it will reach $1.2 billion by 2023, according to the research firm Cognilytica. This kind of work, the study showed, accounted for 80 percent of the time spent building A.I. technology.

    This work can be so upsetting to workers, iMerit tries to limit how much of it they see. Pornography and violence are mixed with more innocuous images, and those labeling the grisly images are sequestered in separate rooms to shield other workers, said Liz O’Sullivan, who oversaw data annotation at an A.I. start-up called Clarifai and has worked closely with iMerit on such projects.“I would not be surprised if this causes post-traumatic stress disorder — or worse. It is hard to find a company that is not ethically deplorable that will take this on,” she said. “You have to pad the porn and violence with other work, so the workers don’t have to look at porn, porn, porn, beheading, beheading, beheading

     Source: NYT

Why It’s Hot: All this tech-first talk of AI, this was FASCINATING to me. I did not know this was the reality of “training AI.”

Four Loko teases a hard seltzer with almost triple the alcohol content of White Claw as booze makers battle to win over ‘bros’

Four Loko appears to be entering the battle to become the drink of choice for the modern “bro” with a new hard seltzer.

On Tuesday, Four Loko posted images on Twitter and Instagram showing a Four Loko seltzer labeled the “hardest seltzer in the universe,” with 14% alcohol by volume. For comparison, White Claw has an ABV of 5%.

“Hard Seltzers ran so we could fly,” the caption reads.

The hard-seltzer business is booming, with sales increasing by more than 200% over the past year, according to Nielsen. Over the Fourth of July weekend, the drink was the top-growing segment in the beer category.

Hard-seltzer-loving bros have been crucial to the beverage’s success, Business Insider’s Bethany Biron reported.

“Throw a dart at my fraternity composite, and you’ll find a guy who’s into hard seltzer,” a college junior and fraternity member told Biron.

White Claw — owned by the private company Mark Anthony, which also operates Mike’s Hard Lemonade — currently dominates, with about 50% of hard-seltzer market share. But other companies are eager to cash in on those seeking hard seltzer with higher ABVs, especially as younger drinkers ditch beer.

This week, Natural Light and PBR announced their own hard seltzers. Natural Light’s hard seltzer is 6% ABV, while PBR’s is 8% ABV.Four Loko seltzer’s 14% ABV would be the highest in the increasingly crowded market. Four Loko, owned by the Chicago alcoholic-beverage company Phusion Projects, did not immediately respond to Business Insider’s request for further information about the drink.

Why it’s Hot
Picking up on trends we talked about a few weeks ago, this hard seltzer business is somehow picking up even more steam, and getting more ridiculous.

Google launches ‘Live View’ AR walking directions for Google Maps

Google is launching a beta of its augmented reality walking directions feature for Google Maps.

Originally revealed earlier this year, Google Maps’ augmented reality feature has been available in an early alpha mode to both Google Pixel users and to Google Maps Local Guides, but starting today it’ll be rolling out to everyone,.

Just tap on any location nearby in Maps, tap the “Directions” button and then navigate to “Walking,” then tap“Live View” which should appear near the bottom of the screen.

The Live View feature isn’t designed with the idea that you’ll hold up your phone continually as you walk — instead, in provides quick, easy and super-useful orientation by showing you arrows and big, readable street markers overlaid on the real scene in front of you. That makes it much, much easier to orient yourself in unfamiliar settings, which is hugely beneficial when traveling in unfamiliar territory.

Source: TechCrunch

Why It’s Hot

Seems like a good use of AR for actual utility and building on existing ecosystem.

 

More beer + health trend: Anheuser-Busch’s craft brand, Golden Road Brewing, announces multi-year sponsorship of USA Swimming

USA Swimming, the national governing body for the sport of swimming in America, U.S. Masters Swimming and Golden Road Brewing has announced a new multi-year partnership, marking the first-ever alcohol sponsorship for USA Swimming.

As part of the partnership, Golden Road will serve as co-presenting sponsor of VIP hospitality experiences at USA Swimming House and USA Swimming Live at next year’s U.S. Olympic Team Trials in Omaha, Neb. The brewery will also hold activation rights in the Toyota Aqua Zone and serve as presenting sponsor of the “Last Session Show” and the Golden Goggles red carpet show. In a unique extension, Golden Road will also implement an athlete support program that provides financial support to adult athletes, as well as industry exposure and professional training.

A former captain of the Yale University swim team, Gill co-founded the Los Angeles, California-based brewery in 2011 when she was just 25. In 2015, Anheuser-Busch bought Golden Road.

“My dream since I was a little girl was to spread the passion and excitement I felt for swimming with others. My second love, beer, happens to have the ability to bring fans together and add to the enjoyment of watching competition,” Gill said. “By chance meeting last summer at the Nationals, I realized USA Swimming’s leadership team had a big vision of taking the sport of swimming to new heights — so our teams have worked on a truly unique partnership to help drive excitement for fans and athletes leading into a major year for swimming on the global stage. I can’t wait to enjoy a Golden Road beer while watching my favorite swimmers compete for a spot in Tokyo next summer.”

Source: Craft Brewing Business

Why It’s Hot

Just last week we had a post on “Performance Beer” and discussed how beer + healthy lifestyle coming together is a trend. Here is further support of that.

 

How Unpredictable Is Your Subway Commute?

Recently published in NYTimes, this article is a great example of useful data visualization and interactive content.

While the key point is about the factor of variability as an overlooked aspect of commuting data (NYC as particularly guilty of a lot more variability than other cities), I thought the best part was the way they used data to tell a customized story while reporting on the variability aspect.

Source: NYTimes

Why It’s Hot: 

Great use of data visualization and personalized content

Can ‘Big Data’ Help Fight Big Fires? Firefighters Are Betting on It

As out-of-control wildfires in the West grow more frequent and more intense, fire departments in Southern California are looking to big data and artificial intelligence to enhance the way they respond to these disasters.

The marriage of computing, brawn and speed, they hope, may help save lives.

For about 18 months the Los Angeles fire department has been testing a program developed by the WiFire Lab at the San Diego Supercomputer Center that makes fast predictions about where active fires will spread next. The program, known as FireMap, pulls together real-time information about topography, flammable materials and weather conditions, among other variables, from giant government data sets and on-the-ground sensors.

When firefighters across the city are dispatched to respond to brush fires, the department’s leaders at headquarters now run the WiFire program as part of their initial protocol. Then, WiFire’s servers at the San Diego Supercomputer Center in La Jolla crunch the numbers, and the program turns out a predictive map of the fire’s expected trajectory. Those maps can then be transmitted electronically from headquarters to incident commanders on the ground.

The program can make sophisticated calculations in minutes that would take hours to run manually, said Ilkay Altintas, the chief data science officer at the San Diego Supercomputer Center.

Source: NYTimes

Why It’s Hot

Good example of data being put to life-saving use.

Purina Street Campaign Tests Dogs’ Urine To Assess Health

Pet product brand Purina knows how much pet owners love their furry friends, and wants to encourage routine vet visits. Accordingly, its latest campaign in France involves an outdoor billboard that can check a dog’s health via its urine.

Special billboards use pheromones to attract dogs to urinate on them, and then will run the sample through several tests to tell the owner the results. The tests look specifically for four common problems— diabetes, kidney issues, urinary infection or cholesterol. The results even recommend a particular Purina diet or to take the dog to the vet’s office for a checkup.

The goal is not just to make sure people’s pets are healthy, but also to encourage customers to associate Purina with health and wellness for their pups. “Purina’s objective is to provide simple and efficient solutions to improve the wellness of our pets. We wanted to raise awareness on the importance of veterinary checkups, but also to offer a solution that fits in the daily lives of pet owners—the daily walk on the street or in the park,” Véronique Herman, marketing manager specialist at Nestlé Purina Pet Care, says in a statement.

Source: PSFK

Why It’s Hot: 

A good way to show a brand’s dedication a a broader cause for it’s audience, as well as execute on more innovation OOH marketing.

 

Uber now lets you pay for rides and food via Venmo

Uber has teamed up with PayPal-owned Venmo to let people pay for rides and food via UberEATS with the funds in their Venmo account. According to the companies, more than six million payments mentioned Uber in the last year. The integration will also enable people to easily split the cost of food orders and rides with friends within the Uber app.

“Adding Venmo as a way to pay within Uber and Uber Eats furthers our mission to provide a seamless way to pay for the services that matter most to our customers,” PayPal COO Bill Ready said in a statement.

For Uber, this partnership is a way to further differentiate itself from its U.S. rival Lyft. Though, this is not an exclusive partnership, so Venmo could also team up with Lyft for payments. For Venmo, this is a way for the service to become more ubiquitous as it faces competition from Zelle, a bank-backed mobile payments service that’s on track to outpace Venmo in number of users sometime this year.

Within the Uber app, once you select Venmo as a payment option, you get directed to the Venmo app.

The integration will officially go live in “the coming weeks.”

Source: TechCrunch

Why It’s Hot

Integration all over the place!

Amazon to Buy Online Pharmacy PillPack, Jumping Into the Drug Business

Amazon announced Thursday that it would acquire PillPack, an online pharmacy with a nationwide reach, in a deal that could quickly make the online giant a major player in the drug business.

The deal is precisely the kind of news that the health care industry has been fearing for months, as Amazon hinted that it was interested in expanding its reach to include prescription drugs, a $560 billion business.

One barrier to entry for Amazon had been the bureaucratic hassle of securing pharmacy licenses in each state. But in acquiring PillPack, it is essentially leaping over that hurdle because the company is licensed to ship prescriptions in 50 states.

Anxiety over what Amazon might do in health care has unsettled the industry and has been seen as one factor in a wave of recently proposed mergers, including CVS’s acquisition of Aetna and a union between the health insurer Cigna and Express Scripts, the pharmacy benefit manager. Last fall, perhaps in a move to get ahead of Amazon, CVS announced it would offer next-day delivery of prescription drugs and same-day service in some big cities.

The entry of Amazon into the pharmacy business could make it easier for the big pharmacy benefit mangers to persuade the Justice Department that their contemplated mergers with insurance companies will not harm consumers by hindering competition.

PillPack, which started in 2013, is an online pharmacy that distributes its pills in easy-to-use packages designed for consumers with chronic conditions and multiple prescriptions. The company sorts prescriptions by the dose and includes a label with a picture of each pill and notes on how it should be taken. It has long been seen as a potential target for larger businesses looking to expand their reach in online drug sales, including Amazon and Walmart.

While innovative, it is not necessarily a major player in the pharmacy world, bringing in about $100 million in revenue in 2017, according to the company.

Free Power From Freeways? China Is Testing Roads Paved With Solar Panels

The experiment is the latest sign of China’s desire to innovate in, and dominate, the increasingly lucrative and strategically important market for renewable energy. The country already produces three-quarters of the solar panels sold globally, and its wind-turbine manufacturing industry is also among the world’s largest.

The potential appeal of solar roads — modified solar panels that are installed in place of asphalt — is clear. Generating electricity from highways and streets, rather than in fields and deserts packed with solar panels, could conserve a lot of land. Those advantages are particularly important in a place like China, a heavily populated country where demand for energy has risen rapidly.

Because roads run through and around cities, the electricity could be used practically next door to where it is generated. That means virtually no power would be lost in transmission, as can happen with projects in outlying locations. And the land is essentially free, because roads are needed anyway. Roads must be resurfaced every few years at great cost, so the installation of durable solar panels could reduce the price of maintenance.

Solar roads could also change the driving experience. Electric heating strips can melt snow that falls on them. Light-emitting diodes embedded in the surface can provide illuminated signage to direct drivers to exits and alert them to construction and other traffic hazards.

Emirates moves toward windowless planes, starts with first-class seats

Emirates president Tim Clark has been talking about virtual windows in an interview with the BBC.

And no, this isn’t just some wacky concept outlined in a recently granted patent. The first virtual windows are already here, in the first-class cabin of Emirates’ newest Boeing 777-300ER aircraft.

Clark said external fiber-optic cameras stream images to the virtual windows, apparently offering high-quality images that are actually superior to what you see when looking through a regular aircraft window.

The Emirates president said there was “absolutely no reason” why we can’t have passenger planes fully kitted out with virtual windows in the near future. Windowless cabins would give the aircraft more structural integrity while making it lighter, allowing for faster flights and improved fuel efficiency, Clark said.

But as the BBC points out, the design could prompt safety concerns. For example, in an emergency situation like a fire, cabin crew need to be able to see outside the aircraft to assess the situation before initiating evacuation procedures. If the plane’s power systems fail, that could result in the displays shutting down, leaving crew and passengers stuck inside a truly windowless, and possibly dark, aircraft.

When asked about this apparent obstacle, the European Aviation Safety Agency said it didn’t see “any specific challenge that could not be overcome” with the use of virtual windows inside passenger planes.

While some first-class Emirates passengers already have the chance to try out the virtual windows, it’s likely to be a while before an entirely windowless aircraft — one looking a lot like a cargo plane from the outside — takes off with hundreds of passengers inside.

The technology brings to mind an idea put forward by Airbus several years ago for windowless cockpits. The aircraft manufacturer suggested in a patent — one which you may or may not wish to describe as “wacky” — that it would be beneficial to move the cockpit to the back of the plane. It said that having it at the front reduces the aircraft’s aerodynamic qualities because of the complex shape and structure required to house it. The heaviness of the reinforced windows also adds to the aircraft’s overall weight, reducing its fuel efficiency.

As with Emirates’ design, on-board cameras would feed real-time video and pre-stored data to displays in the cockpit, providing pilots with all the visual information they need.

Source: Digital Trends

Why It’s Hot

While possibly more pleasant for travelers AND efficient for air travel, could this also be an additional engagement opportunity for brands? Or an educational opportunity for travels?

Jetblack Could Change Walmart Shopper Stereotypes

Walmart’s tech incubator is out with its first experiment. The incubator, known as Store No. 8, just launched Jetblack, a concierge-style service for requesting stuff and getting it really quickly.

To shop with Jetblack, first you need an invite. Right now the service is limited to some customers in Manhattan and Brooklyn who are part of an eight-month pilot program restricted to buildings with a doorman, though that will soon expand and a waitlist is available now. The service is $50 a month — considerably less than some adjacent competitors, while considerably more than Amazon Prime — and promises same-day delivery.

Jetblack is focusing on “time-strapped urban parents” seeking “more efficient ways to shop for themselves and their families.” To request something, Jetblack members send a text message and will receive product recommendations sent back in text. Those recommendations are culled from Walmart and Jet.com but also from specialty retailers locally.

That means any product request is fair game and “sourcing a specific beauty cream from a member’s favorite local boutique, curating custom Easter baskets and delivering them once the kids are asleep and rushing beach essentials to a family on vacation” are all within the realm of Jetblack fulfillments.

“Consumers are looking for more efficient ways to shop for themselves and their families without having to compromise on product quality,” said Jetblack co-founder and CEO Jenny Fleiss, formerly of Rent the Runway.

“With Jetblack, we have created an entirely new concept that enables consumers to get exactly what they need through the convenience of text messaging and the freedom of a nearly unlimited product catalogue.”

Sources: eMarketer Retail  TechCrunch

Why It’s Hot

In retail and e-commerce, competition is hot around convenience. The pilot is interesting because (1) New Yorkers have opposed Walmart retail spaces in the past and (2) New Yorkers are already getting the best of same-day shipping/delivery in so many areas — so they expect it/are used to it — so they need it, but will they care about Walmart’s offering?